Meal frequency is IRRELEVANT when it comes to improving body composition. You can eat six meals, three meals or 10 meals… assuming you’re in a calorie deficit then fat loss will occur.
BUT, finding the ‘optimal’ frequency for you, can make all the difference when it comes to losing body fat.
We need to think of three things:
2) Your schedule
Let’s break it down…
Refers to how full you feel after meals. If we eat too frequently our meals are likely to be unsatiated due to their size as opposed to if we were eating larger meals. If you eat 2000 calories a day and have six meals, that’s 333 calories when split evenly. If you eat three meals instead that’s 666, in theory, double the satiety.
#2 Your Schedule
If you work long hours, then 6 meals are probably unsustainable. Your diet should fit around your daily schedule. Busy mornings, lazy evenings? Then maybe intermittent fasting or carbohydrate back-loading is for you. Work from home? Then you have more flexibility and can probably adhere to higher frequencies.
Is it low? Then you probably need more meals split over the course of the day to ensure you can eat all of your calories. If it’s high, then you should probably save a bulk of your calories for later in the day, meaning less frequent meals or utilising an eating pattern such as intermittent fasting or carbohydrate back-loading mentioned above.
From personal experience as well as working with clients, four meals per day seems to be the favourite when it comes to satiety, one’s schedule and ensuring all calories are consumed. If you’re an early riser or appetite is low, 5 may be preferable.
Protein within every six hours has been shown to maximise protein synthesis, therefore it would seem reasonable for meals to occur within that time if preserving muscle is a priority for you.
Example Template for 4 Meals Per Day
9 am – Breakfast
1 pm – Lunch
5 pm – Dinner
9 pm – Pre-bed
Example Template for Five Meals Per Day
8 am – Breakfast
12 pm –: Lunch
3 pm – Snack
7 pm – Dinner
10-11pm – Pre-bed
Make your diet work for you, there’s no one size fits all, experiment, evaluate, adjust. The priority should and will always be ensuring you’re within a calorie deficit.